Carver v. Atwood, No. 21-40113 (5th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Carver, a corrections officer at the Stiles Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), sued three of her former coworkers under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging they had sexually assaulted her at the Stiles Unit. The complaint specified that Carver was suing these defendants in their official capacities. Carver also brought section 1983 claims against TDCJ and the Stiles Unit. The court dismissed TDCJ on sovereign-immunity grounds and also dismissed Carver’s claims against the Stiles Unit. None of the individual defendants responded to their summonses or defended the suit in any way. The clerk entered a default. The court ordered the individual defendants to “show cause” why a default judgment should not be granted.
Without giving Carver notice or an opportunity to respond, the court subsequently dismissed her claims against the individual defendants with prejudice. The court reasoned that, because Carver had sued the three in their official capacities for money damages, the suits were prima facie barred by sovereign immunity. The Fifth Circuit reversed. Both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Fifth Circuit precedents preclude the dismissal of the complaint sua sponte and with prejudice. The Rules give plaintiffs a variety of ways to fix a defective complaint.